Put a stop to Big BrotherIt’s no wonder this nation has earned the name the “Land of Morning Calm.” We’re among a handful of countries which remain surprisingly calm about the bombshell revelation of a federal program code-named Prism under which U.S. intelligence authorities collect e-mails, Internet phone calls, photos, videos, file transfers and the social networking data of users in America, as well as other parts of the world, from U.S.-based Internet companies. The government, media and civilian organizations are quite unconcerned, even though South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world.
This would be a relief for spies in charge of Korean affairs at the U.S. National Security Agency in hot water over mind-boggling surveillance activities. The agency has been stocking a galaxy of data on domestic and foreign residents through access to the central servers of leading Internet companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook. In March alone, it gathered data on 97 billion instances in the name of national security and protection of its nationals from terrorism risks.
The case has dominated international media since a contract-based employee of the NSA went to the press to spill the beans on the government’s clandestine activity, causing a strong response from Europe and China. The mixture of fear, anxiety and resentment on how much Big Brother watches over the world has roiled the global community - except for us. We brush aside the affair as if it’s something out of Hollywood.
The Economist spelled out the scope of the U.S. surveillance and its impact on our everyday lives. Imagine you have been watching videos about barbecue grilling techniques on YouTube and then you write an e-mail to your brother asking where you can find an affordable pressure cooker to finish assembling a package. And this behavior is sent to U.S. authorities. Then your comment, views and plans could instantly place you as a suspect plotting a bombing in the eyes of the U.S. government. What is used daily in our kitchens - pressure cookers - as employed in the Boston Marathon bombings in April - are cheap and easy to turn into bombs. If you really want to get yourself in trouble, you might as well look up videos about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the country’s missile launch presentations and then Google bombing techniques and pressure cookers.
Without even going that far, local experts suspect Korean senior officials and politicians may be under surveillance by Washington.
Lim Jong-in, dean of the Korea University Graduate School of Information Security, said the economy makes up a key pillar of national security in the U.S., presuming Korean companies to be among the surveillance targets.
Despite the suspicion, Koreans remain mum on the issue in contrast to all the noise and objections it raised to U.S. beef imports. Chung Tai-myung, computer engineering professor at Sungkyunkwan University, pointed out Koreans are comparatively indifferent to privacy problems if there is no immediate economic and psychological damage. Controversy over leaks on individual information through hacking does not last more than a few days here.
Google has been reading and analyzing users’ searches and interests in order to provide tailored services. Different information pops up when someone googles British oil companies. One can have news on oil leak accidents and another on investment reports. Through this filtering process, an individual mind can be narrowed down and opinions and thoughts can even be influenced by a particular company or political force.
With enough data, one could sit in front of a computer and control other people’s minds. The government can snoop on civilian lives and manipulate opinions. Once it has the technology it is tempted to use it, as we have seen in the meddling by the National Intelligence Service in our last presidential election through online campaigns.
The Economist’s latest edition asks, “Should the government know less than Google?” U.S. authorities merely asked for what Google has compiled. Kim Dae-shik, a professor of brain science at Kaist, said companies or political forces would want to make use of individual data if they could get their hands on it.
The controversy over the U.S. surveillance program isn’t just their problem. It mirrors the loopholes in our perspective and forewarns what we might confront in the future. Our privacy and intelligence sovereignty could one day be handed over to another country and our rights and choices fall prey to business deals. In fact, it could be happening as we speak.
We don’t have much time left. If we don’t come up with a mechanism to stop Big Brother from using its high technology to watch over us, we may find ourselves completely exposed.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kwon Suk-chun